Death Penalty Awareness Week At Georgetown

Credit: Charles Nailen - The Hoya - Georgetown University
By: Anne Thompson

The Georgetown University chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty held its first-ever Death Penalty Awareness Week October 22—26. The event was so successful that the Campaign voted at its recent national convention to hold a Death Penalty Awareness Week in all chapters during the same week in October next year.

Each of the five days of the Georgetown week focused on a different death penalty issue--innocence, inequalities in the system, cruel and unusual punishment, religious perspectives, and alternatives--and captured the attention of the university community with a variety of events and displays.

To kick off the week’s events, we staged a visual presentation of the statistic that for every seven people executed, one person has been proven innocent and released. Students sat for an hour in the center of campus wearing black hoods over their heads, six of them dressed in black and one of them dressed in plain clothes who held a sign that read "Innocent."

The week’s keynote event, a Live From Death Row forum, drew more than 150 students and featured a conversation live via speakerphone with Illinois death row inmates Leonard Kidd and Grayland Johnson. Marlene Martin, the national director of the Campaign, and David Bates, a victim of police torture in Chicago, also spoke.

Bates, who was beaten and suffocated with a typewriter bag, spent more than 11 years in prison before winning his freedom. "I can’t begin to explain to you how I was feeling," Bates said.

Martin called on students to take action against police brutality and the injustices of the death penalty. "We have enough studies, we have enough statistics," Martin said. "What we need now is activism."

"The combination of information about the death penalty and the experience of speaking with death row inmates awakened me to the great failure of our justice system," said Georgetown sophomore Julie Shah. "We have some serious reevaluating to do."